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8 US Towns That Make You Feel Like You’re in Europe

From Germany to Switzerland to Spain, here's where to go for a European getaway — no passport required.

By Claire Hannum on February 8, 2021

iStock/Sean Pavone

I think it’s safe to say most of us would love to book a luxurious European getaway right about now. If only vacation time and extra cash grew on trees! Fortunately, America’s backyard is full of beautiful towns with a heavy European influence that you can explore – no passport or currency exchange necessary.

Plan a weekend in one of the towns below for the European fix you’re craving. Your inner world traveler – and your Instagram feed – will thank you for it. 


1. Leavenworth, WA

This little slice of Bavaria in the Cascade Mountains is only two hours outside of Seattle. A walk down Leavenworth’s main street, however, would lead you to believe you’d just been dropped into the center of an alpine village. Leavenworth is especially known for its Oktoberfest celebrations, but it’s dreamy year-round. 

In Leavenworth, you can eat your weight in German food, enjoy more beer than you’ll ever be able to finish and explore the Nutcracker Museum, which features more than 5,000 nutcrackers. Leavenworth is also a great stopping point along the way to many of Washington’s wineries and ski resorts, so if you’re ever in the area, give yourself the gift of a German afternoon.


2. Holland, MI

Just as the name implies, a visit to Holland, MI, is like a step into a tiny Dutch haven. The town was founded in the 19th century by Dutch settlers, and it’s home to the only authentic operating Dutch windmill in the U.S.

Each May, Holland plays host to a beautiful tulip festival, where you can catch fields of more than 25,000 flowers. The town is also just a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan, so it’s exactly where you’ll want to spend a sunny summer day.


3. Solvang, CA

If you’re dreaming of a visit to Denmark, stop by Solvang to get your fix. The town was settled over a century ago by Danes looking for an escape from harsh midwestern winters. (Not surprisingly, Solvang translates to “sunny fields” in Danish.) Today, Solvang is home to colorful storefronts, horse-drawn carriages, and its famous “Danish Days” celebration in September.

4. New Glarus, WI

Named for the Swiss canton of Glarus, this European village celebrates its heritage with life’s finer things: cheese and chocolate. It’s easy to get lost in the intoxicating Swiss bakery, but if you still have an appetite left, be sure to stop by some of the town’s Swiss restaurants and meat markets. New Glarus even has its own craft brewery! While you’re there, don’t miss the Swiss Center of America or the open-air Swiss Historical Village and Museum. 


5. Frankenmuth, MI

If you tend to blast holiday music on your stereo year-round, Frankenmuth is the place for you. Known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria, Frankenmuth is home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, a massive year-round establishment that’s said to be the largest holiday store in the world. If Santa had a warehouse sale, it would probably look a little something like Bronner’s.

When your legs start to get sore from navigating the Bronner’s aisles, make your way to downtown Frankenmuth. It looks like a page out of a storybook, and while the local shops are charming, the town’s real star is its food. Frankenmuth restaurants offer a glimpse into German culinary culture that you won’t find in many other parts of the U.S., so be sure to bring your appetite.


6. Helen, GA

This German-influenced town didn’t get its start as the mini-alpine village it is today. Helen was relatively nondescript and lacking in German influence until the ’60s when business owners and city planners transformed Helen into a Bavarian paradise to attract more tourists. The makeover certainly did the trick. At just an hour and a half outside of Atlanta, Helen is an easy weekend getaway. Its location next to the Blue Ridge Mountains makes it a dreamy spot to take a mini detour to Bavaria on your way to a mountain hike.

7. Lindsborg, KS

Every other October, Lindsborg comes to life for Svensk Hyllningsfest, a Swedish heritage celebration. The festival includes Swedish dancing, cooking lessons, art and a vibrant parade.

Of course, Lindsborg is plenty of fun to explore during the rest of the year as well. Larger-than-life Dala horses, a Swedish folk art symbol, decorate the streets. Swedish art is displayed in local galleries. The Swedish Pavilion, a historic site originally built for the 1904 World’s Fair, offers a glimpse into Sweden’s architectural legacy. In fact, Lindsborg is so steeped in Swedish culture that in 1976, the king of Sweden himself paid a visit!

iStock/Sean Pavone

8. St. Augustine, FL

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European city in the U.S. It’s been around since 1565, and paying a visit is the closest you can get to visiting Spain without crossing the ocean. The city’s narrow streets, Spanish colonial architecture, and epic historic sites will take your breath away at every turn. Highlights like the Casa Monica Hotel, the Colonial Quarter living history museum, and the Lightner Museum are unlike anything you’ll find in the rest of the country.

If you prefer your travels with a side of quirk, you can also pay a visit to the nearby Fountain of Youth, which explorer Ponce de Leon stumbled upon in the 1500s. De Leon hoped that drinking from the fountain would provide him with eternal youth. While that didn’t seem to pan out for him, visitors to the fountain are welcome to drink the water themselves, just in case. It’s worth a shot, right?

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